The thing that got me as much as anything about the close call and the tragedy of a young man being killed in a roof slide this last weekend is that it came while doing what we all do here. It could have happened to any of us and we have all likely put ourselves in the same situations without the tragic consequences. It is what we do here.
We live in a mountain resort community and we all deal with the good and the bad. Snow brings both. It brings great pleasure for those who ride its waves down the mountains and it guides us to quiet places in the woods. It can bring pain for those who deal with the shoveling, the removal of the heavy spring piles and even death, as it has more than once in our valley.
Our community was the site of an avalanche that claimed two lives up Brush Creek just last month. This past weekend, two local men in their 20s were completely buried when local roofs slid. One, Alex Theaker, was buried for hours and, through what I can only think of as a miracle, survived and is sore but fine. The other, Stephan Martel, was not as fortunate. By all accounts, Stephan was a good, happy soul. He was doing what we do here—helping his boss clear the snow from the restaurant roof when the unexpected happened. No one is to blame and it is simply part of our lives here. The consequence of both incidents was extreme and unfortunate but those guys were doing what we all do in this high mountain valley in the winter.
After a wonderful ski day on the hill last Friday where I found myself in steep, rocky chutes filled with trees that in the past I’ve fallen down head-first and not understood why I didn’t hit something, I put my tired self on top of a 15-foot high pile of snow stretching a roof rake as far as I could to knock down some snow and ice that was caught in a valley on my roof. I thought as I did it that in the unlikely event it all came down, I would dive under the porch roof. It is what we do here. We work in the snow and we play in the snow and we discount the extreme chances that are presented because we do it pretty much every day.
Nothing will bring back Stephan and that is sad for our little mountain town. We as a community are lucky that Alex made an air pocket that allowed him to be discovered hours after being caught in the slide. I have no doubt both lived here in sometimes difficult circumstances because they appreciated the challenges and the joy this community and this place can provide. As members of a mountain tribe we can be grateful in that knowledge.
Look, we live in a special place. It is a sometimes dangerous place, given the extreme nature of the weather and sports we choose to experience at 9,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. Last weekend, while more extreme than normal, was not so different from many others and there will be more like it. So be aware and be careful. Be appreciative every day for the good this place provides, while respecting the challenges and risks it presents.
Given the outcomes of the past weekend, our hearts will be heavy as we mourn the passing of a good soul who helped us out with a gentle smile as we grabbed dinner and a drink in Crested Butte South. We will also feel the relief of the miracle from an unbelievable survival story of a native son.
It is what we do here.